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Falling Oil Hasn't Slowed Greeley's Economy, Quite The Opposite In Fact

City of Greeley
Flickr-Creative Commons

Oil towns across the country are seeing the impacts of the price slump. The entire state of Texas is seeing an economic slowdown. Tiny oil towns once benefiting from the Bakken boom are watching warily as growth slows.

In Greeley, which sits in the midst of Colorado's biggest oil patch, the story is pretty different, said Victoria Runkle, the assistant city manager and the town's financial guru.

"In January 2015 our sales taxes were 7 percent higher than they were in January 2014," said Runkle.

That's right – the town is raking in more revenue from sales this January, with oil at $47 a barrel, than a year ago, when prices were approaching $100 a barrel.

What gives? It's not as though the Colorado oil economy hasn't taken a hit. Companies have announced production slowdowns, some workers have lost their jobs.

But jumping in with expansions and jobs are companies like Leprino Foods, the cheesemaker, and Vestas, which manufactures wind turbines. The turbine manufacturer recently said it was hiring for 400 new jobs in its Windsor facility, just a few miles up the road from Greeley.

Plus, the rising tide of Colorado's rapid population growth (which is leading to a housing crunch in some communities) may be lifting Greeley's boat. New building permits are up 24 percent in the first quarter of 2015 so far, said Runkle. The town's sales tax gains come primarily from sales at home improvement and garden stores, as well as in the restaurant sector.

That increase is more than making up for the slowdown in sales taxes from businesses selling or leasing equipment to oil companies, said Runkle.

The town still keeps a close eye on oil prices, but it also watches agricultural commodities and encourages development with friendly building policies and relatively cheap water.

"Greeley is very well poised for future growth. We have plenty of water and also in terms of the land available to build on, Greeley has plenty of land," said Runkle.

Runkle said she was happy her town's economy, at least so far, seems diversified enough that it is not seeing low oil prices drag it down.

"It's very good to see," she said.

Stephanie Paige Ogburn has been reporting from Colorado for more than five years, primarily from the Western Slope.
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